Richard Wyn Jones is right: to freeze the BBC licence fee and scrap it from 2027 risks not just the financial future of S4C and Radio Cymru, but the Welsh language altogether.

No other institutions contribute as much to its use and transmission. So it is not hyperbolic to ask a simple question: without them, who would fill the void of public service broadcasting through the medium of Welsh – across television, radio and online – covering the day-to-day business in the Senedd, promoting the latest music from Welsh bands, report on local stories from Bangor to Barry, and much more?

Netflix or Amazon Prime? I wouldn’t count on it.

The decision on the licence fee by the UK Government’s Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, is an ambush assault on the principle of public service broadcasting that brings unparalleled value to listeners and viewers. Unpicking the BBC is a hefty price Welsh language communities in particular have to pay for winning the loyalty of Conservative MPs yet to wield the axe on their leader.

The National Wales: Nadine Dorries became Culture Secretary in September last year (Picture: PA Wire)Nadine Dorries became Culture Secretary in September last year (Picture: PA Wire)

After all, the future of S4C and BBC are intertwined: the licence fee keeps the Welsh language broadcaster afloat. Freezing the BBC’s budget for two years impacts Radio Cymru services in the short term and S4C programming. With Dorries today announcing £7.5m extra every year from April to develop S4C’s digital offering, few will be reassured that its future is secure.

The Culture Secretary has insisted before that she “knows how popular” S4C is in Wales. Even with a small budgetary increase for the channel, the wider problem doesn’t disappear for public service broadcasting; with the licence fee frozen and its long-term future debatable, the BBC will need to compromise on its own excellent output across Radio Cymru and the investment in S4C.

Soaring inflation and a lack of extra cash means Radio Cymru is at risk of being broken down piece-by-piece. That will surely lead to staff shortages, scaling back programmes - take your pick. BBC Cymru bosses will eventually have to, if 'Operation Red Meat' is successful.

For all the swanky slogans on levelling-up, few in Westminster would understand that public service broadcasting is far more critical to Welsh public life than a motorway or a freeport, particularly to the community of Welsh speakers across the country.

In a political context, S4C and Radio Cymru have created a unique but highly impressive roster of programmes that bring together in-depth analysis with original reporting - I owe my career almost entirely to them.


Tynged yr Iaith at 60: the radio lecture which sparked Welsh language activism

Ysgol Ni: S4C series looks at a Blaenau Ffestiniog school

Government signalling ‘end of BBC as we know it’ – UK Shadow Culture Secretary

And for Welsh learners, whatever show they listen to, Radio Cymru is utilised to develop their understanding of the language – often when their children are in Welsh-medium schools. There are too many case studies to count.

It is safe to assume that few in Wales, even on the Conservative benches in the Senedd, are comfortable with the prospect of diluting Welsh language content even further. Sam Kurtz and Tom Giffard, both Tory MSs in Cardiff Bay, even wrote to Dorries' predecessor in June 2021 to ask for more funding for S4C. Yet the party in Wales has yet to articulate the consequences of the licence fee decision, and the events of the last week suggest the Welsh Conservative group in Cardiff Bay will have little courage to do so.

We must therefore consider a most radical counter-solution: Devolving broadcasting powers.

The Senedd’s own Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee is in favour, as is Cymdeithas yr Iaith and the National Communications Council. The Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru's co-operation agreement also states the devolution of powers as a key policy.

This would at the very least ensure fair funding for S4C, which has since 2010 seen its budget cut every year by 36% in real terms, though proponents have yet to clearly explain how it would secure BBC Cymru’s financial and operational future in the wider web of the corporation's structure.

But the principle alone is crucial: the future of Welsh broadcasting should be decided in Wales rather than Westminster. Otherwise, as this weekend shows, there will be consequences.

The BBC undoubtedly has flaws, editorially and culturally, but it remains Britain’s most illustrious global institution. And as the historian John Davies documented, throughout the twentieth century the BBC in Wales became a national organ to enable modern Welsh nationhood to develop. Now, if we are to preserve and enhance Welsh language communities, we should take responsibility for the future of broadcasting -before it is too late.

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.